Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Response to Ghazala Minallah's letter to Benazir Bhutto

(This is a response to the demands of the boycott; it puts things in their context and sheds light on what we know little about: the politics of boycott)

Dear Civil Society colleagues,

I have been reading the emotional e-mails and blogpostings by some of you (most notably GhazalaMinAllah's open Letter to Benazir Bhutto) demanding that Pakistan's political parties, especially PPP, follow non-political civil society organizations indemanding restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other members of the unlawfully removed judiciary over and above all else.
There is also clamour that elections should be boycotted until judges are restored to their offices.
Civil society is fresh from its success of getting Justice Chaudhry restored a few months ago. But thenthe mechanism of restoration was street protests (backed by opposition parties) and a successful appeal to the Supreme Court itself. What mechanism do people have in mind this time? To think that General Musharraf will roll up his bed and go home after our demonstrations and the flurry of emails is a mistake.He could hand over power to another General, which won't solve Pakistan's rule of law problem.
It is time we take a long, hard look at our relationship with political parties and put our weight behind them rather than making the unrealistic demand that they follow us. The goal remains the same--restoration of the judiciary and supremacy of the constitution--but the "trashing the mainstream parties" approach should give way to respecting their weight and sacrifices, too. Aitzaz Ahsan, a PPP candidate for the National Assembly again, would most likely agree with me.
There is a long history of suspicion and criticism of the PPP by civil society organizations and admittedly Pakistan's politicians and parties are far from perfect. But let us face it, in the real world civi society assists political parties. It is not a substitute for them.
Wherever civil society has erroneously convinced itself that it can operate against or independent of politics, the establishment has thrived. Take the example of Egypt, which has more NGOs per capita than any other country. These NGOs denigrated Egypt's mainstream political parties in the 1980s and 1990s just as we are running down the PPP nowadays. The result is the entrenchment of Hosni Mubarak's Mukhabarat (Intelligence agencies) dictatorship.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto has been unequivocal in her support for the judiciary and there is no need to launch into long letters based on a single sentence here or there. She is a politician and must deal with multiple constituencies and demands, unlike most of us who have no compulsions. Our personal worst case scenario is that our next blog posting would be hacked. Ms Bhutto, her family and her party have paid a heavy price for confronting Pakistan's military and intelligence machinery. Their flaws and faults aside, there is no denying they have fought and borne the brunt of the repression of the Zia and Musharraf dictatorships.
Benazir Bhutto is on record as saying "Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary is our Chief Justice." Why do we not proceed on that statement and seek its reiteration instead of attacking Mohtarma?
The problem is that civil society has a strong non-political component whereas Ms Bhutto is a political leader. A politician must weigh all options. What if a polls boycott fails and, like 1985, the new assembly becomes operational without any real opposition? Then civil society would be easily smashed.
Also, an election campaign can help mobilize masses (as it did in 1977) and become the forerunner of a bigger protest movement against polls rigging. Imran Khan and some of his supporters are wrongly assuming that Benazir Bhutto's concern in not limiting themselves to the judiciary demand relates to NRO.
Having shouted at the top of their voices for a decade about the cases these people really believe that is Benazir Bhutto's real problem. It is not. Spain has already dismissed the case on grounds of inadequate evidence. The Swiss case is in its death throes. The London case is being quashed by the Appeals Court and the Pakistani cases will get nowhere given that they got nowhere in eleven years. So silly suggestions like"If we reassure Mohtarma that we will end the cases to get her to boycott the elections then maybe PPP will boycott" are based on a wrong premise.
Those who have never contested, lost or won an election do not understand the dynamic of elections. Especially in rural areas it is very difficult to stop people from voting. An election is one occasion when the poor get attention from the candidates. They do not want to miss this opportunity.
Even now, a boycott would be successful only in Lahore, Peshawar and possibly Rawalpindi-Islamabad. The Chaudhries will ensure a high turnout in Gujranwala division. Southern Punjab will turn out to vote for the traditional leaders and MQM will get the vote out in Sindh's large cities like Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur. If PPP boycotts, there might be low turnout in rural Sindh but who will be there to see it? Poor Balochistan seldom counts in electoral arithmetic. The result of a boycott would be a two-thirds majority for Musharraf's PML-Q, which would then do whatever it pleases wih the constitution.
In 1985, Ziaul Haq used smaller parties in MRD to pressure Benazir Bhutto into boycotting the non-party polls. All those advocating the boycott later turned out to be ISI's people. (Read accounts of that election in books by General K.M. Arif and others).
In principle, it sounds very logical to argue "We will not legitimize the election" by participating. In practice, let us go through the mechanism of what might happen. Elections take place, are boycotted by the opposition, result in a four-fifths "win" for PML-Q and JUI.

Then what? Street protests against the illegitimate assemblies? Who will ensure these protests will be big enough to make a difference? Assuming the protests are very large and sufficient to force Musharraf's hand, what would be the next step? Resignation and handing over power to the army chief? Is that what we want or need? Let us give the politicians, especially Benazir Bhutto, credit in figuring out how to work out a political formula of participating in elections under protest and then using the polls campaign as a springboard for a methodical protest campaign. Let us remember that civil society is very important but it is never a substitute for political parties. If international pressure makes the polls freer, the opposition can win and force Musharraf's hand. If the election is rigged, a wider anti-rigging campaign can be launched with the involvement of the poor voters who will feel cheated. In either case, Musharraf will have to talk to the opposition and an alternative way for his exit can be found than another military intervention.

As for the judiciary, civil society should focus on getting an unequivocal commitment from the political parties that they will restore the pre-November 3 judiciary upon being elected. And make the judiciary issue part of the polls campaign, alongside economic and other issues, instead of insisting that it be considered a separate matter from the country's overall politics.I know my view runs contrary to the sentiment of most civil society activists but I request that it be given careful consideration. After all, I am one of you and am not part of the Pakistani political system.

Wasiq Ali

( The Emergency Times Eds- While its clear what stance we the students have taken on the issue of elections, this article admittedly does provoke thought and debate regarding the PPP's stance and the political subtleties that parties must consider. Critical responses to this article will be posted soon. While in no way do we denounce strategic moves such as using electioneering as a tool to mobilise the masses, our basic demand of non participation in the actual election remains. As such the particular gameplans of the parties are not our concern but on this principled stance we stand united. As to the merits and demerits of a boycott in the current context, an exegesis shall follow)


temporal said...

please do not mention BeZamir and Aitezaz in the same breath;)

The Bezamir Chairperson for Life Zardari nee Bhutto should first institute democracy in PeePeePee before seeking the same route for her country

the odds for that happening are about the same as pigs flying:)

Anonymous said...

Aitzaz Ahsan is languishing in a subjail. Munir Malik ultimately d b of no use for the movement now because of his physical state (created with the help of government). Justice (R) Tariq is still braving it out. Same is the case with Ali Ahmed Kurd et al. CJ Iftikhar is still in communicado.


The article written by this fellow must b applauded. The PPPPs themselves acknowledge that they d only win in interior sindh and then change the system from within! How? please explain that d the current regime allow them the majority??

Anonymous said...

Temporal's comment above reflets the arrogance of some educated Pakistani civil society members. It is okay for anyone among us to think or say that we do not approve a particular politician and then list reasons for the same. but to be abusive and dismissive about the leader of Pakistan's largest political party shows ignorance of politics.

There is a reason Aitzaz Ahsan, and many other committed to the cause of democracy, remain with the PPP and support Benazir Bhutto. We should try and understand their reasons, not resort to abuse and angry condemnations of the kind Musharraf and Shujaat engage in.

wasiq Ali makes some importnat points above. they must be considered in the same civil tone that Wasiq has employed.

Among US newspapers, the New York times has been most critical of Benazir Bhutto. This latest story from two New York Times reporters from rural Pakistan shows how, and why, Bhutto and the PPP still remain potent. It is not the description of any ideal but it reflects a reality we too must embrace:

Nasim said...

Assuming it can be proved that the elections are rigged, one wonders how will the political parties manage to launch an anti-rigging campaign while they fear lauching street protests against illegitimate assemblies.

M Junaid Khan said...

I think Wasiq you do have a point here but i wonder why the only main demand Benzair put forward in her deal with the government was the cases against her. In case she was already winning them and as you claim, she did get them cleared by herself, why she made herself and the NRO a scapegoat for it.
I mean i am sure she didnt do it for the betterment of all other political parties or for that matter for MQM but for her own party and to be specific for her own self.
We all know how the world looked like in her previous two terms and how much independence she gave to the civil society. Trust me i would still say Musharraf gave more freedom to the media in the beginning then what Benazir has done in her two terms though she was the so called Political party.
Lastly, we all are aware of the way politicians were jailed in her government and how independent the media was!
And as far as the sacrifices are concerned of the 80's, let me make it clear, it was the ordinary party workers who were taking the brunt as again Benazir spent most of her time in UK and only returned when Zia was almost gone.
This time again she went into self imposed exile and only returned, when the deal was signed. Where was all her political responsibilities and all her sense of BIG Brother (sister in her case), for the past ten years when she was flying between london, new york and dubai?
I think Wasiq you are good in writing and may be you convinced few but trust me i just look at not their promises but at their history and their present deeds. Dont tell me that if we elect her this time, she will change from demon into angel and make Pakistan the asian tiger.
For God! She blame Musharraf for not quitting the post of Army Chief while look at her, she has herself occupied the post of Party chief for life time. She is a feudal and she believes in feudalism. No matter what she preaches, she cant practically implement it on herself and not to talk about her doing that in the whole country.
I would still go with Imran Khan for atleast he has done more with his resources then what Benazir did with her two time premiership to this country.

Mahvash said...

A very considered article.

ambreen said...

I do agree that boy-cotting the elections would give free reign to the govt parties...not sure about backing PPP though!! everything ppp does looks stage planned! in any case, whether or not parties boycott elections, the outcome is likely going to be the same, given the ease with which elections are engineered every time here. the students should remain apolitical in any case i feel.

NoMOre said...

and how are we supposed to know that you are not one of those mentioned ISI agents who you blame to have persuaded PPP to boycott elections in '85. It suited army then, but any attempt to divide civil society who are finally forging into one block, taking a firm stand on principles and making their voices heard will be and must be thwarted.

Let us believe in ourselves this time rather than depending on political parties who all have some personal interest somewhere.

I, for one, would rather take up the challenge to do it myself, than to leave it on others and hope against hope for things to change. No, No more. For once, I see like minded people waking up and willing to work for this cause. God bless us all in these challenging times!!! No more army cantonments please !

Looking for Ritzy Red Ghararas said...

Fascinating article! It's good to have insight into the 1985 boycott that the older people keep mentioning - it shows how a boycott can get messy.
But there is one fundamental difference between the '85 and today's election atmosphere: there was no street/people's movement or unrest around '85 election. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

If this is the fundamental difference between now and then - then perhaps political parties should read the mood of the voters as well. They will be the ones dishing out the votes.

ramzikhudi said...

we, the people of PAKISTAN are very well aware of long history of struggle for restoration of Democracy by pppp, which finally concluded in the big deal with Musi, the NRO, the notorious aggreement which is insult infact a slap on any judiciary system of the world.
even 2days there r news that pppp members are not aggring on the conditon of restoration of judiciary inspite of great insistence by PML-N and other APDM Parties
may ALLAH ALMighty give us moral courage to stand on truth firmly ignoring our personal benifits

Anonymous said...

What Wasiq has said must not be dismissed cursively. In the heat of things, let us try to reflect on things coolly without being overly suspicious of leaders' intentions.

May be BB is right, and it would be best to do a repeat telecast of 1977. All opposition goes to polls. Then, PMLQ etc rig massively and win. Then, the combined opposition launches a resistance to protest rigging etc and then the regime is toppled.

Nonetheless, I consider this the next best choice. The best choice would for PPP to simply join those who are already in for protest. All regimes in Pakistan, no matter how dictatorial, are somewhat unstable. If both BB and Nawaz boycott the elections, then it wouldnt be hard to get rallies in the tens of thousands. Add to that the fact the the US wont back such an election if BB's out of it. These two factors - masses and US -will be sufficient to convince factions within the Army that it's high time and they need to hand over the show to someone else.

So if PPP sides with combined oppostion now, it seems almost certain that the regmime will be toppled in weeks.

shahid said...

wasiq Ali sahib, you have spoken very well for benazir bhutto , but i am a hard nut to crack so i will not buy it. Does poloitcs mean forget about principles and join the band wagon , if thats what it really implies then benazir is the most successful politician back home . If that is not the case, then Ghazala minallah needs a well deserved applause . Perhaps you may bother to let us know , why was benazir dumped by , Iftikhar Gilani ,Afteb sherpao , Faisal saleh hayat , her uncle Mumtaz Bhutto , Naseer ullah Babar ,and last but not the least , Farook Ahmad Laghari, of course Amin faheem has survived only because he owes his sole existence to " jo mohtarama kahee gee , hum wohi karayngay " if thats what mohtarama wants then i find no difference between her norm of politics and Parvaiz musharrafs. i wish if i could cast a spell of principles in pakistani politicians